Bouldering, Hiking & Eating – Bishop, CA
It’s been a whirlwind of a week here in the little mountain town of Bishop, CA. For those who don’t know this place it’s actually the largest populated city in Inyo County and also a hub of sorts on 395. It sits at the crossroads of Hwy 395 and US 6 which was, interestingly enough, one of the original east-west interstate highways in the US. Geologically it falls between the gorgeous Sierra Nevada Mountains in the West, the stark White Mountains in the East and the historic Volcanic Tablelands in the North.
It’s an incredibly scenic spot, and we’ve been here many times before, but what makes it unique are the “extras”. Bishop is known as a climbers paradise, and the combo of hungry climbing crowds and steady influx of younger/hip types has morphed it into one of the top “foodie” destinations on 395. There are over 40 different restaurants in Bishop including a brewery, 3 bakeries, 3 coffee shops, 5 Mexican, a Thai, an Indian and no end of good old-fashioned American. We come to Bishop to hike, play and eeeeeeeeat and there’s no better place on 395 to do all three.
This time around, because of a forecasted cold snap (with snow, no less) we chose to forgo our usual boondocking spot and join our buddies Wandertopia at the Fairgrounds in town (review coming). This turned out to be an excellent plan not only for the hookups, which came in handy as temps plummeted, but because the Fairgrounds are walking distance to downtown and all the foodie delights thereof. Sweeeet!
Here’s what we got up to:
The little town of Bishop, believe it or not, is known as one of the top bouldering places in the world. There are more than 2000 “problems” (as the climbers call it) on two principal rock types located in the Bishop tuff of the Volcanic Tablelands just north of town and the quartz monzonite in Buttermilk Country SW of town. We visited the latter a few years ago, but we’d never been to the more famous location in the north. Known as “Happy Boulders” (not to be confused with “Sad Boulders” which are right next door, and obviously much less visited…poor things), this area has 409 “routes” and is located via a short uphill hike just north of town.
We dragged the Wandertopia boys along (together with the doggies, obviously) and spent several superb hours just playing around the rocks on a pleasant warm day. Paul and Todd both attacked the boulders like mountain goats, while Russ and I (much more sensibly I thought) looked on. We celebrated our first ascents with head-sized margaritas (see below) right after. A total blast even if you don’t climb!!
Little Lakes Valley Hiking
When we first came to Bishop in 2012 I asked the local ranger for the absolute best hike in the area. Without a moments hesitation he said “Little Lakes Valley“. It was the hike to top all hikes, the one walk to rule them all.
We did it for the first time that fall and I have to admit the man was right. If you’ve ever wanted to hike at altitude (without too much elevation change) and see more lakes than you can ever imagine, this is your spot. The trail starts at a dizzying 10,300 feet (~3,140 m) and the first lake is barely over a mile in. From that point on its just pure hiking gravy with each turn more ridiculously beautiful than the last, each lake more stunning than the rest.
It’s the kind of the trail that just overwhelms your senses.
After checking conditions with the local ranger, we (once again) dragged the Wandertopia boys (+ dogs) along and boy-oh-boy was it worth it. Gorgeous running creeks, intense red-orange tundra, endless frozen lakes (with oh-so-many crystal formations) and perfectly-peaked mountains met our view at every step. We negotiated our way through steps of rock and patches of mud and ice, while the dogs went crazy running & playing in the snow. The area is so high that even the slightest breeze chills you to your bones, but the scenery, mountains and clouds are just so over-the-top that you barely notice the discomfort.
Bring lots of layers, take your time (remember this is high altitude hiking and you will feel it), but if you’re in the area don’t miss this!
NOTE/ This hike, as with all the mountain hikes around the Eastern Sierras is 100% dog friendly. For trail details click HERE.
Bishop Eating Extravaganza
As part of our experience here in Bishop we decided to re-capture calories burnt through hiking & bouldering with eating (wouldn’t want us to waste away now would we?). Given we were walking distance to town we were able to try a different spot almost everyday, something we’ve never accomplished in past visits. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here are our top picks of the week:
The Bishop Burger Barn* – This is such a good hangout that we never, ever (ever) go through town without eating here at least once. The Burger Barn is a funky, kinda grunge spot that offers tasty burgers (both regular and gluten-free options) from locally sourced ingredients (local bison, grass-fed beef) with delectable milkshakes (OMG!) and super-tasty sweet potato fries. Load ’em up with sauteed mushrooms, onions, and blue cheese and oh-my what a thing! Even their veggie burgers are phenomenal. I can’t recommend this place enough! *Dog Friendly
- Mountain Rambler Brewery – We were stoked to discover that there’s a new Brewery in town. Mountain Rambler opened last year, but only just started serving beer in Jan. They currently have 4 items on tap (Wheat, Brown Ale, Black IPA and Porter). The Black IPA was by far our favorite (and worth coming back for) while the rest of the beers still need development, but what blew us away was the food. Awesome, fresh CA-style “foodie” cuisine with options such as chilled red pepper soup, creative burgers and tacos. We loved it!
- Tacqueria Las Palmas – We tried two Mexican spots in town, Taqueria Las Palmas and El Ranchito and the first won hands down. Their chips were warm, the salsa home-made and the Cadillac Margarita kept us buzzing for hours after (whoah Nelly, what a punch!). Food was good, albeit a bit of a mix. I loved my pork chili verde while Paul was so-so with his tostada and the boys thought their chili rellenos and enchiladas were in-between, but the “extras” made it a total score. We’d come back even if just for the margaritas and chips.
- Great Basin Bakery – Everyone talks about Schat’s Bakkery in Bishop and if you’re in town you certainly should stop by, but our personal preference was actually this lesser-known tiny little bakery south of town. The cookies here were awesome, and I was especially happy to find a gluten-free option. Their soups are apparently pretty darn amazing too, but we didn’t get a chance to try them.
- Black Sheep Coffee* – There are actually several really decent coffee shops in Bishop that offer super-cute places to sit as well as free WiFi and excellent coffee. Looney Bean is a viable choice, but our preference is definitely Black Sheep. Fresh-roasted coffee with creamy and not-to-sweet Mocha’s giving you that extra-special buzz you’re looking for. They even have a few beers on tap, kinda weird but it kinda works. We went daily! *Dog Friendly
- Sage Restaurant – Looking for fine dining in Bishop? Well then this is your spot. I can’t say it compares to fine dining in, say, San Francisco or New York, but for 395 this is pretty darn fancy. The roasted jalapeno potato soup was super tasty, the pistachio-encrusted salmon flavorful and moist and we accompanied the whole thing with a bottle of champagne (what else?). You’ll pay extra $$ here, but it’s a fun experience.
*NOTE/ The Bishop Burger Barn and Black Sheep Coffee both offer lovely outdoor eating areas that are dog-friendly. The other restaurants sadly do not.
There are lots of other eating options in town including Thai Food (at the airport), Smoked Meats and even Indian (really!), and there are also PLENTY of other things to do around here (see “related posts” below), but this was all we could manage this time around. That about wraps up our week here in town. We’ve got another major wind-storm and cold-snap coming through the mountains so we’re going to hang tight for a few days and then see where the weather is before we move on. See ya at the next spot!
- The Oldest Living Things On Earth – Ancient Bristlecone Forest, CA
- Land Of A Thousand Alpine Lakes – John Muir Wilderness, CA
- Boondocking & Bumming In Bishop, CA
- $2 Gourmet Meals, Railroads & Some Apples – Bishop, CA
- Bishop CA Round-Up…And A Few More Thoughts On The “Dark Side”
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